Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:22-25).
Corporate worship is an official occasion. It is not casual time. Instead, it is a special moment when the church as a whole enters the very throne room of God. It is a special time before God in a way that the church is not before him at any other time. If this is not the case, if the church does not specially come before God’s presence on the first day of the week in its worship, then these words do not make any sense: “Let us draw near [to God] . . . . not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together . . . and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:19-25). From the context of this passage, the apostle compares the temple of the Old Testament and the heavenly temple manifested in the New Testament. The old temple is removed; the veil keeping out God’s people is torn; and access is made available to the heavenly temple. Therefore, Paul says, “draw near” to worship him.
If the church does specially “draw near” to God in worship, then God’s people should reflect this reality in their attitudes and actions. They should demonstrate all of the dignity and reverence such an occasion demands. This is the heart of why we worship the way we do. We come to worship with the conviction that we are entering the court of the King of kings. Indeed we are! Shouldn’t we then make our actions count, being careful not to do things that are offensive to God? I think the answer to the question of formality lies in the modern Church’s failure to view worship as real entrance into the presence of the Living God. Once this is grasped, however, our perspective changes, and all of the questions about more formal (liturgical) worship can be answered.
I believe that the modern Church has become so preoccupied with the freedom to be casual that it has lost the sense of God as King. The notion of respect, dignity, and honor are gone. If we think about the different times of formality and informality in our own homes, we can begin to see the rationale for formal time in the Church. There are times when a father may be very serious with his children and not want them to take what he says lightly. He expects them to listen and answer back with ordered courtesy: “Yes sir,” or “No sir.” Then there times when families dress casually and play or work in the yard together. There are other times when children want to perform for their father, to put on their best clothes and play a piano recital or perform a routine learned in dance class.
Isn’t it interesting that when children want to perform for their father they don’t have a problem with dressing up? This is the idea of formality in worship. It doesn’t mean that there are not informal times such as our Wednesday night potluck suppers or home Bible studies. It means, however, that there are formal times where we present our best, and perform for God, our High and Majestic King. Just as in life there are formal and informal times, so in the Church there is the same dynamic.